Mastercraftsman primed for Palace glory
Aidan O'Brien-trained Mastercraftsman is William Hill's even money favourite to win Royal Ascot's St James' Palace Stakes on Tuesday.
Whatever wins this Group 1 race - named after the palatial royal residence built in the Tudor period - the horse will be well on the way to being crowned Champion Miler.
In the last 10 years all St James Palace' Stakes winners have contested one of the European classics. The 2000 Guineas has proved the best guide to unearthing the winner.
One winner of the 2000 Guineas, Rock of Gibraltar, and four placed horses - Araafa (2006) Azamour (2004) Zafeen (2003) and Giants Causeway (2000), have gone on to triumph in the last decade.
Aidan O'Brien has been by far the most successful trainer having been responsible for five of the last 10 winners. He has also had seven placed from a total of 23 runners.
Saeed Bin Suroor has had one winner Shamardal in 2005 and two placed from seven runners.
Historically, this has been a good race for punters with six of the last ten jollies obliging.
So what of this year's renewal? The obvious one is O'Brien's Danehill Dancer colt Mastercraftsman at evens.
First time out he ran a respectable enough 5th, 3L behind Sea the Stars in the 2000 Guineas.
Like many of O'Brien's 3-y-o's he showed great improvement for the run and trotted up in the Irish equivalent. However, the ground was heavy and the time was 11 seconds slower than standard so perhaps the form is suspect.
One horse who was definitely unsuited by the conditions that day was the 2000 Guineas runner-up Delegator 4/1. Jamie Spencer has been replaced by Jimmy Fortune and given good ground on Tuesday Brian Meehan's Dansili colt must be given a good chance.
Another interesting competitor is Jim Bolger's Giants Causeway colt 9/1 Intense Focus.
He showed great determination in winning the Dewhurst (also won by the 2005 winner Shamardal). He had Delegator 1 1/2L back in fifth that day. He made a satisfactory reappearance at Leopardstown in March. Conceding 3lbs to Kevin Prendergast's talented colt Recharge he was only caught in the last 100yds.
The key to him is the ground and given good or faster conditions he must be considered. However, because he has not contested one of the Guineas it would be possibly too large a leap of faith to back him with huge confidence.
The beautifully bred Sir Michael Stoute trained colt 13/2 Evasive by Elusive Quality out of a Storm Cat mare continues to remain prominent in the betting. However, he weakened at the end of the Guineas as he did over 7 furlongs at Newbury as a 2-y-o. Perhaps he does not quite get the mile.
In conclusion, with the trends so strongly in his favour it is hard to get away from the chance of Mastercraftsman at even money.
Perhaps he will emulate Black Minnaloushe who won for O'Brien in 2001 having previously taken the Irish 2000 Guineas. However, given the good ground he needs, 4/1 Delegator is to be greatly feared.